The other day I was having a conversation with my very talented dressmaker/designer/illustrator friend Alfia (who made my wedding dress) and we were talking about how hard it is for women ‘of a certain age’ to find interesting, flattering and non-frumpy clothing if you’re not someone who shops regularly or widely (and many women over 40 are stumped by where to shop as they are worried about looking too young in the “mutton dressed as lamb” (MDAL) way).
One of the things I’ve noticed is that often women who are not sure what to wear, haven’t defined their personal style end up doing what I call “hiding behind blandness” for fear of standing out (and looking foolish I’m guessing). They dress in ‘classic’ clothes, the ubiquitous black pant and some sort of solid coloured top. No details, not accessorized and very little in the way of personality. They don’t love their wardrobe, but they are “not naked” and have settled on so many “it’ll do” clothing purchases when shopping to cover themselves, without stopping to think about whether or not this is the right purchase to make.
Why do so many women worry about looking MDAL? I know I was brought up with it as a commonly heard saying as if women who dressed youthfully or maybe a touch too young were of loose moral character and that was a terrible thing to be. I have discovered that it’s:
- pretty rare
- comes from a rebellious personality
and in fact, if you worry about it, it’s never going to happen to you. You are more likely to dress too old or just hide in that blandness rather than project the exciting and interesting woman you really are through your clothing. Dressing youthfully will make you look more modern and up-to-date, it won’t make you look foolish or silly.
For me, one of the most interesting things about watching all the fantastic women undertaking my Evolve Your Style challenge is just how often “stuck in a style rut” equates to “hiding behind blandness” and once they start doing the challenges and get out of that boring comfort zone, they get compliments and discover their style (or at least a little more about what they do and don’t like). This was one of the reasons I wrote the program. Our ruts are habits, and our brains need to be shaken out of those habits every now and again if they are not serving us well (some habits like cleaning your teeth and exercising regularly are great habits, but some habits like wearing the same clothes or something very similar each day are not so good for your brain or body).
If you are bored with your wardrobe, bored with your style or are worried about looking like a MDAL victim, then I want you to do my Evolve Your Style challenge. It’s important as adults that we continue to grow and change through our lives. Playing with clothes, discovering your creative side (and you have one hiding inside you somewhere I know!) and enjoying the process of dressing is something I want for you (otherwise why would you come to my blog and read my posts?) and I’m here to help you.
There are some aspects of our life we need safety – a roof over our head, a meal on the table. But dressing safely and too blandly for fear of standing out is not making us safe, but invisible or even inconsequential and I know that you are valuable, you are important and I know that feeling good about how you look helps to improve your confidence and self-esteem. And as someone said on the Evolve Your Style Facebook secret group “nobody died from wearing and accessory” as they got up the courage and donned their hat for the day and received compliments from many (to their utter surprise).
Will you keep hiding behind blandness or take a step towards a more positive image and maybe an exciting future?
Enjoyed that. When I gave up full time work, I discovered a need for attractive casual clothes and little need for the skirts I’d been wearing for years (I’m over wearing tights each day), but I kept a couple for lunches and occasional consultancies. My weekend clothes were however crap and I needed to re-think. Never wear black (of which much abounds) and find most of the shops full of badly made rubbish, of fabrics that disintegrate far too quickly.
Buying well made clothes proved too difficult, so I got out the sewing machine, and can indulge myself in beautiful fabrics, classic lines with great colours or patterns and trousers that don’t finish well above my ankles. And I can also indulge myself designing things I like. I do buy the odd thing, but it has to go with everything else.
For those of us who don’t want the mutton syndrome, sewing is great!
yup – it was only when i went back sewing a lot last year that i noticed my wardrobe had slowly become so lazy and also very grey! and anything i sew tends to have colour. anyway, i think i just drifted into a set type of clothes and colour but not for long.
i do get frustrated when i see the choice of clothes in shop. some of the fabric quality is lacking, and also the cuts are limited. even though my legs are fine, there are hem lengths i dont find appropriate anymore (never thought i would even think that) but my pet hate is the knee length waist seam dress – i really think it suits very few
In my case, it’s not so much about worrying about trying too hard to appear youthful (I’m only 30!), but just worrying about feeling foolish in general. I would rather be hidden than have someone judge me for wearing the “wrong” thing or making mistakes with my clothes. Growing up poor and fat, I never felt like I *deserved* to look good, so I didn’t try. Now that I can afford it, I don’t know where to start, and starting almost literally from scratch is intimidating and overwhelming. I have fewer than 30 pieces in my entire wardrobe, but only a few of them make me happy. I’m trying to pinpoint what about them makes me happy so I can keep those feelings in mind when I purchase new clothes.
I don’t know if this helps, but I’d start with colour. Try and work out those colours which make you feel good and which get the odd compliment. I’ve just been reading a book about finding them – by looking first at the colours in your eyes, i.e. the rings of colour around your iris, furthest out and closest in. Then look at the colours in your hair – there’s always more than you think, lightest and darkest (pick strands up and look underneath as well as on top), and also look at your wrist and the colour of your veins. I hadn’t tried that before – went with the seasonal/warm/light/cool etc of colours. I’m a fairly classic autumn. But for me colours matter most to feeling happy in clothes. Go into a fabric shop with a mirror and hold things up to your face and see what happens. Then, you can get fabric swatches, or just strips of paint chips to carry around and check. If you want to see what goes with what, try the Vivienne Files online.
Simple lines and colours that make you glow, and you can usually feel happy with what you wear. Question why the garments you like work and go from there. And goof luck.
Or you can just get me to do a colour analysis where you get a colour swatch that shows colours that work for you and work together so you don’t need to be an expert.
I highly recommend Imogen’s Evolve Your Style course! Like you, I grew up fat and poor, wearing whatever fit from the thrift shops. Even in my 50s, I often say, well, I need a top and this fits well enough… I’m finishing her course (and her amazing 7 Steps one too) and have a much better sense of style. I’m still struggling with a lifetime of bad habits, and a world full of badly made and black clothing, but I’m getting there!
…And thank you, Imogen, for your fantastic introduction of me!!!
That is very flattering!!
Anyway, 100% agree with everything you wrote, Imogen.
And I also understand all women who left their comments.
Life has it’s ups and downs and sometimes we feel like hiding behind blandness and some just don’t have a knowledge how to change things.
I’ve done it myself (hiding behind blandness) going through different stages of my personal life and different numbers on scales.
Being in my mid forties and gaining again a few kilos I had to really think how to dress for the new chapter of my life but still stay cool and modern without pushing it too hard and too young.
I’ve done it with help of my friends stylists and image consultants and my own creativity.
Sometimes you need a little gentle push from people who knows better.
I’ve being lucky to have friends like that.
It has been a fantastic experience.
Thank you again, Imogen!!!
Gosh you certainly nailed it with this entry. I see so many women that are nicely dressed but so blandly dressed. I am happy to take risks many turn out to be so not flattering by I enjoy the adventure of trying. I too am a sewer and have delved into the world of self sewing. I am finding that it is not as easy as just the sewing. I find because I have aged that I have many fitting issues that I have to learn to adjust patterns. Then I am finding that the fabric stores don’t carry very good fabric any more. It is very disappointing to make something then when you go to clean it it has warped or just lost its pizazze.. I still can find great deals on ready to wear clothing which makes for much more cost effective spending on clothing.
Figuring out what styles will flatter my body type with also considering contrast level in my personal coloring and what colors look good make for many elements that I need to consider when styling myself. As I am an ‘inbetweener’ neither old or still in my 40’s I want to dress modern but not obviously too young which is am not sure what that really is anymore.
I love the advice about not being too bland I see so many beautiful women in my ‘inbetweener’ age group who have so much style potential.
I don’t know that most of the women around me are too worried about looking overly young as much as they just want to do what’s acceptable. Lots of what you described: black pants and plain top.
As I work out what works for me, I am trying to create a look that is more interesting. I don’t mind going first 😉
You may be surprised about how many women worry about looking too young (or maybe it’s just less of an American thing than it is a European and Australian one).
That is what I was thinking, that it is less of an American thing. Although, it may be more of a thing in the older generations here, but I mean older, like retirement age. It will be interesting to note, as I get into more closets and conversations with women, whether that is more of an issue than I think. At least out here in the GNW, we don’t use the idiom “mutton dressed as lamb”, but I do here the occasional 65yo say something like “not at my age”, usually referring to a micro-mini or neon or something like that.
Actually, as I think about it, in my mind some of the more interesting brands and looks are associated with being older: brightly colored glasses and whimsical design, for example. So, for me, I might skew boring in my wardrobe for that reason.
Lol, there is always alot to think about, isn’t there?
At any rate, thanks for the encouragement to dress in a more interesting fashion! 🙂
I feel like you were talking directly to me!! Guilty Guilty Guilty.
This post rang so true for me as well, except that in my case it’s the ubiquitous black pencil skirt rather than pants, because I’m so short (especially in the legs!) that I don’t really like the look. I started doing the 7 Steps to Style this year to help me get out of this rut and make the most of my individual style. Still early days but it’s looking promising! Thanks so much Imogen.
I’ve always been different to my sisters and family and received scathing remarks because of it. I try to look nice all the time, even when I am painting walls, I will make sure that my hair is okay so I don’t look like something the cat dragged in, but the comments above are easier said than done. In a family with lots of older sisters who comment negative about everything you wear or try (even when I was 48) its pretty darn hard to keep a smile going with a strongly ambivalent attitude at large. They argue that your hair went darker by dying it rather than ageing as that is “rubbish” or you dress nicely because you always have to have the attention or you would look much older if you didn’t wear that makeup all the time etc., etc.,etc., know what, in the end, I have ended up classic when I am not! and only recently after coming home from an event where all were gathered I realised like a flash of light that profuse and ever present comments such as these affect every decision you make.
Id like to see a style post on getting out of that? Classic pants and blazers are all I have in my wardrobe when once owning them or pearls never entered my head…. ever!